The haimish interfaith romance “David & Layla” informs us at the outset that it’s inspired by actual events. Nonetheless, the plot is so implausible that our
skepticism persists virtually the whole way through.
And yet, against all odds, this indie New York comedy ultimately seduces us with a steady assault of good will, bad jokes, goofy charm and buoyant music into buying a love affair between a Brooklyn Jew and a Kurdish Muslim.
Writer-director Jalal “Jay” Jonroy, a Kurdish expatriate who has lived in New York for more than a decade, populates his feature debut with characters who embody a post-9/11, we’re-not-extremists philosophy. The movie dissolves the gulf between the lovers’ families by first exposing each side’s foibles and prejudices, then emphasizing their generosity and love.
In other words, the movie has something to offend and captivate everyone. By the time “David & Layla” climaxes with a grand party and hugfest, its higher aims have carried the day.
“David & Layla” opens March 7 at the Sundance Kabuki.
David Fine (played by David Moscow) hosts a show called “Sex & Happiness” on public-access cable that essentially allows him to stick a microphone in the faces of attractive strangers. He’s in no hurry to get hitched to his buxom Jewish girlfriend, Abby (Callie Thorne).
David’s whiny and borderline grotesque parents (Peter Van Wagner and Polly Adams) naturally want him to settle down and start a family. Jonroy’s depiction of New York Jews is overly broad, but frankly not much different from stereotypes propagated by many Jewish directors.
David has nothing but sex on his mind, so when he sees the tall, vivacious Layla (Shiva Rose) on the street, and runs into her again and again, he becomes lustfully obsessed. David’s French cameraman and his shrink offer some tips, which he uses to clumsily finagle his way into her life.
It turns out this knockout is also attracted to David, which seems unlikely since there’s nothing special about him. (Their relationship makes more sense if you see David as an appealingly funny guy rather than a not-very-hunky leading man.)
Layla is a Kurdish refugee from Iraq, living with her uncle on an expired artist’s visa. Clearly, it’s much easier to accept her dating a Jew than if she were Palestinian, or, for that matter, a Shiite or Sunni. Her family may criticize Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, and they may not like Jews, but there is some wiggle room.
Layla’s identity also allows Jonroy — whose brother and brother-in-law were victims of ethnic strife in Iraq — to briefly spotlight the suffering of his people with archival footage of Kurds gassed by Saddam.
To his credit, “David & Layla” evokes genuine horror without permanently derailing the film’s screwball tone. Likewise, the comedy and flirtatiousness never become so silly that we forget the real-world ramifications of the couple’s interfaith relationship.
The stakes change when Layla refuses to marry David unless he becomes Muslim. However, we can’t take this plot twist too seriously in a movie that wrings laughs out of vasectomies and green cards, and expects us to believe that a guy with a public-access show can afford a boat.
Should we wonder what to make of David’s apparent conversion, the splendid soundtrack of up-tempo Middle Eastern and klezmer music is there to lighten the mood and remind us that this is a story of love triumphing over all.
Indeed, “David & Layla” is so excited about their romance that it becomes contagious, and we forgive the movie’s forays into lowbrow humor and cliché. In the end, it doesn’t take a huge leap to imagine a Jew and a Muslim together. In New York, that is.
“David & Layla” opens March 7 at the Sundance Kabuki in San Francisco.